Ready for any discussion on chopper deal in parliament: PM

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 18, 2013 14:30 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) The government was "ready for any discussion" on the VVIP chopper deal in parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday as the BJP signalled it would raise the issue forcefully in the budget session beginning Feb 21.

External Affairs Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, said no "concrete material" from Italy was received to substantiate the corruption allegations. He was non-committal on whether the issue would be discussed with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron as the Italian company's helicopter subsidiary is Britain-based.

"Parliament is the appropriate forum to discuss all issues raised by the opposition. We are ready for any discussion," the prime minister told reporters on the sidelines of a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan when asked about the opposition threat to disrupt parliament over the VVIP chopper deal.

"We have nothing to hide," he added.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused the government of cover-up of the conspiracy concerning kickbacks in the $750 mn/Rs.3,600 crore chopper deal and sought to make comparison with the Bofors gun scam.

BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the party will raise the chopper deal in parliament and attacked Defence Minister A.K. Antony, saying he was "guilty" too.

"Antony has given several orders to inquire into the monumental chopper scam. He is struggling to keep his Mr Clean image on the forefront by desperately ordering inquiry and issuing notice to cancel it," he said.

"He has been the defence minister since October 2006 and is guilty of what happened under him as minister," Rudy added.

The opposition has also demanded that the matter be fully probed either by a special investigating team or under the monitoring of the Supreme Court.

Khurshid told reporters that the government has not been able to get any solid proof from Italy on the kickbacks in the February 2010 deal to acquire 12 AW101 helicopters from Finmeccanica's subsidiary AgustaWestland for the Indian Air Force's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries the president, the prime minister and other VVIPs.

"Please understand that even now we are not being able to get concrete material from Italians where matter has proceeded, arrests have been made."

"Up to this point they (Italian government) haven't indicated anything and according to their rules even now they are unable to share with us anything. So I think it is a little premature to jump into conclusion what we can get and from where."

"The best efforts we could make we are making, we have sent teams they will come back with information which we can analyze and comment," Khurshid added.

The minister was non-committal if the issue will be on the agenda in talks with Cameron, who arrived in India on a three-day trip Monday.

"I know what the agenda was a week ago but I don't know what the agenda is... if there is a revised agenda at all," Khurshid said.

The defence ministry Friday initiated action for cancellation of the contract. It also issued a formal show-cause notice to AgustaWestland to explain within a week why the contract should not be cancelled.

The matter came into the limelight after Italian agencies arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi for alleged corruption to seal the deal last week.

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